University Health expects all Bexar County school employees whose school districts provided their names to the hospital system to be vaccinated by the end of March, CEO and president George Hernández said Tuesday.
So far, University Health has vaccinated 14,000 area public and private school employees, Hernández said. That extends beyond teachers to include staff such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers. In the next two weeks, it plans to vaccinate 22,000 others who have expressed interest through one of the county’s 19 public school districts or through their private or charter schools, he said.
“We’re going to vaccinate 3,000 Northside [Independent School District] employees [next] week and all the employees from [San Antonio ISD],” Hernández said. “We already finished Harlandale and most of Edgewood.”
The state government recently issued new coronavirus vaccine guidelines that made all teachers, school support staff, and child care workers eligible for the shot.
Staff that requested appointments should receive a shot by the end of the month, Hernández said.
“That was a goal that President Biden asked, that we try to vaccinate all school employees by the end of March, and we’re going to make it here in Bexar County,” he said. “That includes private and charters.”
School employees who want an appointment but did not already ask their employer to pass along their name should do so, University Health spokeswoman Shelley Kofler said.
“We will work with the districts and we will assist them in whatever way we can,” she said.
Hernández joined other health care providers at a City Council Community Health and Equity Committee meeting Tuesday to update committee members on local vaccine efforts. More than 1.6 million Bexar County residents are currently eligible to receive the vaccine, but only 203,323 had been fully vaccinated as of Sunday, said Anita Kurian, assistant director of San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.
The City-run Alamodome vaccination hub has administered more than 86,000 doses, and there are four other mass vaccination sites in Bexar County: Wonderland of the Americas mall, WellMed locations at the Elvira Cisneros and Alice Trevino Lopez senior centers, and UT Health San Antonio.
UT Health only recently opened its appointments beyond faculty, staff, and its current patients; the organization began accepting general public appointments on March 9, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Leverence said.
“Thus far we’ve already scheduled a bit over 10,000 doses for this week and next week,” Leverence said.
He said supply limitations are hindering access to the vaccine. “There’s not a lot we can do about that until the government starts sending us more.”
Those UT Health vaccine appointments have been made online, which Leverence acknowledged shuts out a segment of the population who do not have internet access. Starting Thursday, UT Health will have phone operators assisting people in scheduling vaccine appointments. But Leverence also asked committee members to help UT Health connect with people who need vaccines but are unable to navigate the online appointment system.
“If we could partner with entities who could provide a registry or a list of names of people in your communities who don’t have or can’t use the internet and provide us their landline number, we could simply reach out to them,” he said. “We can call them and schedule them a vaccine appointment so there’s no waiting on the line, there’s no calling multiple times, there’s no waiting for us to receive a supply – we can actually set aside a reserve of vaccination slots for these individuals.”
Leverence stopped short of recommending a countywide vaccine registry or waiting list, however, which multiple City Council members asked about again Tuesday. City and health officials so far have advised against setting up a centralized system for people to request a vaccine appointment.
“I don’t think any of us are opposed to a registry,” Leverence said. “I just don’t think we’re necessarily all convinced it’s going to solve the problem that we’re hoping to solve. … Will patients necessarily have an easier time or getting [vaccines] any quicker? I’m not sure that that’s the case.”
Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), who chairs the Community Health and Equity Committee, said she deferred to the expertise of the health care providers when it comes to organizing vaccine appointments.
“I’m not going to prescribe to you what the solution is,” she said. “I thought maybe it was the registry. I thought it was a vaccine waiting list. That might not be the solution, but I’m going to ask you to help us think of what can make this easier and less anxiety-inducing for our residents so that we can all move on to a safer and healthier place.”